Why are they spiking my milk and steak?

What are these hormones I hear the industry is injecting dairy cows with and are they reeeeeaally harmful to us?
I’ve been hearing about antibiotics too. That to me doesn’t seem harmful; however,I can undrstand suspecting that it could lead to drug resistant strains of bacteria. But, HOW MUCH exposure does one individual have to have, over any given period of time, to truly be affected by this? And wouldn’t we be eating infected meat, if it were not for the anibiotics given?

You are probably referring to bovine somatotropin (bST). It is a naturally occurring hormone found in cattle, and when it is injected into the animal, milk yields can be significanly increased. (Nowadays, we use biotechnology and bacteria to produe bST instead of harvesting it from the pituitaries of cattle.) bST is not harmful to the consumer since it is normally found in milk anyway. However, there is debate as to its long-term effects on the dairy cattle.


Antibiotics are used as a feed additive because it can significantly increase growth. Since drug residue is not allowed in meat, farmers must adhere to FDA set withdrawal times before an animal may be sent to slaughter. Unfortunately, it is true that use of antibioitics in thas manner can possibly lead to drug resistant strains, but it will not harm you directly.

Infected meat is more a problem with the handling of the animal after slaughter. For example, care must be taken at slaughter to prevent transfer of bacteria-laden digestive material to the meat of the animal. Also, improper cooking techniques can lead to dangerous meat.

Basically, it comes down to cost.

The industry can raise beef cattle to maturity in a very short time by stuffing them full of grain at high density feedlots (much faster than it can by letting cattle graze contendedly on grass out in the pasture). This means that it can sell beef to consumers at a considerably lower cost than in the past, and so now beef is available to many American consumers at low cost, where before it was more of a luxury.

The downside to the high-volume grain diet is that cattle aren’t really built to handle digesting that much grain. They normally only consume small amounts of seeds in the course of their grazing. So they are highly prone to many, many life-threatening and weight-limiting disorders. Dosing cattle with antibiotics decreases the amt. of illnesses they suffer, and increases profit margin. Likewise for growth hormones, which help the cattle pack on weight at a much higher pace, further padding the margin.

The sad side of all of this is that the cattle suffer (from illness, etc.), the cattlemen enjoy much smaller profits than they did in decades past, consumers receive much fattier meat that is probably less healthy for us than meat from grass-fed cattle, we are increasing the risks of creating hardy, antibiotic-resistant microbes, and we may be increasing our–and our environment’s–exposure to hormones (this last is probably the most hotly debated point–it’s not been proven, AFAIK, that beef/milk passes on the hormones to human beings, though more hormones are likely loose in the environment, what with all of that cattle waste). But, on the flipside, beef is consequently affordable. Take your pick.

As for milk–hormones speed up milk production, while antibiotics cut down on losses due to high infection rates of udders, etc. (ladies … you can imagine how chafed you might feel if you were milked by a machine twice a day every day–though I’m sure some nursing mothers using breast pumps know better than I) The thing with dairy cows is that they generally will produce a set qty. of milk during their lifetime. You can have the cow for ten years, and only get a little milk out of it each day, or give it hormones to increase its rate of milk production, forcing the lifetime’s worth of milk out in three to five years. More milk in less time = cheaper milk.

Same equation.

Michael Pollan had a great article in the NYTimes Magazine recently called “Power Steer,” in which he bought a beef cattle to witness how the industry operated. You have to pay to see it now.


I stand corrected! Here it is, still for free:


To address your specific points:

No one knows yet.

There are some who believe that the apparent increase in early-onset puberty among American girls is a result of exposure to these and other hormones/estrogen-like-substances that we have been putting into our food and environment.

Others deny that such an increase even exists, and that the perception of an increase in earlier sexual development is just a sampling error (i.e, researchers don’t include all girls in their studies, they just focus on the abnormal cases; and doctors could be observing more abnormal cases for a number of reasons–like increased access to healthcare for minorities, better documentation of the phenomenon, etc.)

A FOAF, who is Swiss and living in the U.S., now refuses to eat American meat and dairy products–he watched his cholesterol unexpectedly skyrocket after moving here, even though he didn’t change the high-fat diet he had enjoyed in Europe one iota. His conclusion was that the hormones in American meats and dairy products elevated his cholesterol. Hardly scientific, but interesting. Have yet to hear how his cholesterol has risen/fallen since.

So, maybe we’re all screwed already or maybe nothing will happen at all.

Well, not if we raised cattle out in pastures (which takes longer and requires more acreage … but is it more acreage than we use to raise grain to feed cattle in feedlots? I don’t know). The antibiotics are only required b/c of the tight living conditions and unnatural diet of modern force-feeding.

  • toadspittle, who’s off to have a hamburger.

And just to run this into the ground: